By Steve Lichtenstein
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In fact, Bowles is currently the most sympathetic sports figure in New York.
Who among us hasn’t been on a job where the environment was so toxic that you thanked the heavens at the end of every day you survived without receiving a pink slip?
OK, only a select few got paid anywhere near the reported $16 million over the four-year term of Bowles’ contract, but Bowles takes no less pride in his record, for which he isn’t in total control.
And that record (15-17) is bound to take a severe hit this year with the Jets, who open their preseason slate Saturday at home versus Tennessee, in full tank mode.
Oh, everyone from ownership on down through the locker room has been denying it, but Gang Green sits comfortably (around $20 million) below the league’s salary cap with a roster full of holes, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The priority, as evidenced by management’s lack of urgency in propping up the wide receiver position before and after Saturday’s season-ending injury to de-facto No. 1 wideout Quincy Enunwa, does not appear to be winning every game. On the contrary, ritual losing’s consequence — the top selection in the 2018 draft, where a potential franchise quarterback lies in wait — might be deemed preferable.
As such, Bowles really has no chance to succeed.
Yet nothing short of a conspicuous embarrassment this season will be pinned on him, out of our aggregate sense of fairness. Already several in the media have called on the Jets to spare Bowles the ax after this inevitable debacle transpires and possibly even extend him.
They must have forgotten all the ignominies from Bowles’ first two seasons at the helm, particularly the 2015 campaign when the Jets fell just short of a playoff berth at 10-6. The lousy coaching in the season finale loss in Buffalo alone is still too painful for me to rehash here.
The reality is that Bowles, like many of his players, has yet to distinguish himself at his position at the NFL level.
Coaches have been fired for records better than Gang Green’s 5-11 underperformance last season, but owner Woody Johnson gave Bowles a mulligan. Though everyone on the planet expects the Jets to fare a whole lot worse this season, that shouldn’t automatically earn Bowles another free pass.
Bowles has to show some growth on the job this season. Too many times his team has looked unprepared and disorganized. The Jets can be bad again, but certain key players should show some improvement over the course of the season.
“Coach him up” is a common phrase used in all levels of athletics. It’s no less critical in the NFL, yet you can count on one hand the number of Jets who have been developed into core components for a theoretical good team during this regime.
Again, it’s the offense that has been most left behind the league. Maybe it was because Bowles previously outsourced its structure to former offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, who misconstrued Ryan Fitzpatrick’s quarterbacking skills as equivalent to Brett Favre’s.
Bowles has vowed to become more hands-on while supervising rookie coordinator John Morton, but the early media reports from training camp have not been encouraging. Neither of the Jets’ recent draft picks at quarterback — Bryce Petty (fourth round, 2015) and Christian Hackenberg (second round, 2016) — appear competent enough to beat out 38-year-old journeyman Josh McCown.
Team discipline has been another area in which Bowles has yet to place a firm grip. Camp media reports have noted numerous penalty laps and impromptu harangues by both coaches and players in attempts to restore focus to a team that has no room for self-inflicted errors this season.
And who can forget the 2015 locker room knockout punch by linebacker IK Inemkpali to the jaw of quarterback Geno Smith, or all the distractions last year emanating from defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson’s tardiness to Sheldon Richardson’s “feud” with wide receiver Brandon Marshall?
Even though Marshall has since taken his talents to the Giants’ section of MetLife Stadium, Richardson continued his diatribe Tuesday, prompting Bowles to finally issue a cease-and-desist order.
“I really don’t have time for a bunch of BS that happened a year ago,” Bowles said. “We had six months to talk about it. All that (expletive) is over. (Richardson has) been well informed of that, and we move on from there.”
So far there’s been no reports of offense versus defense infighting in this camp, but I’d bet that the grousing is merely festering. Wait until the games count.
All of this (and more — we haven’t even delved into game management) is in the head coach’s purview, which means Bowles is no less responsible for showing improvement in these areas than the backup right tackle is in his own tasks.
It might be easy to sympathize with Bowles’ plight, but let’s not excuse another year of substandard coaching just because his team wasn’t given a chance to be competitive.
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